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Innovative Farmers of Ohio to host conference Feb. 10
By CELESTE BAUMGARTNER
Ohio Correspondent

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The 2006 Innovative Farmers of Ohio (IFO) conference and annual meeting, Friday, Feb. 10 will begin with a tour of the Whole Foods Market in Columbus. Then the group will confer at the OSU Horse Barn on Sawmill Road - one mile south of the market.

IFO was started in 1993 to advance the practices of sustainable agriculture as opposed to organic certified agriculture and to help farmers improve the sustainability and profitability of their farm.

“We have a morning session that’s a field trip,” said Charles Fry, who recently started his position as IFO’s executive director. “We’ll be spending time at the Whole Foods Market in Columbus, a leading retailer of organic food and sustainable grown food from around the country and the world."

IFO will tour the facility and talk to one of the produce buyers about what they’re looking for in suppliers.

During the meeting the Ben Stinner Award, which was established to recognize people who have made lifetime achievements in innovative and sustainable agriculture efforts in Ohio, will be presented to Rex Spray.

Keynote speaker Paul Wiediger, Smith Grove, Ky., will talk about a 52-week-production year using high tunnel greenhouse production, Fry said. A high tunnel is a solar-heated greenhouse with no electrical or automated ventilation that is used to extend the crop production season for many horticulture crops. Crops that are produced within high tunnels are grown in the ground with drip irrigation.

IFO’s Focus
Fry will give a presentation outlining IFO’s focus for the upcoming year.

“We’re going to focus our efforts in the coming years around four broad topics in no particular order of significance because they’re all important,” Fry said. “We boiled down all the things we could do and decided on what we have to do.”

One area is education and outreach. IFO wants to help current farmers transition to more sustainable and environmentally friendly practices.

“We’re also very interested in helping new farmers get started and get started in sustainable agriculture,” Fry said. “We’re focused on women in farming, young people coming into farming and people who might be considering farming as a second career. We’ll run a series of education and outreach programs.”

Another area of focus is becoming a communication hub for farmers throughout the state, connecting farmers with other farmers who are experimenting with similar practices.

“Ohio’s a great state but it’s really big so if you’re trying to, say, convert your dairy herd to rotational grazing system and you’re looking for somebody else who has already done it or is currently working on it, we would be a good resource to turn to and ask,” Fry said.

Connecting entrepreneurial farmers with one another to share experiences, that type of communication is a key part of what IFO is focused on, Fry said.

“Research is another area that harkens back to our roots,” he said. “We’re going to spend a lot of time working with university researchers to carry their research out into the field and doing the reverse as well - helping them connect with producers that are doing some innovative things out on their farms that might merit additional academic research.”

One final area is public policy. IFO is not going to be a lobbying organization, that’s not its mission, Fry said. However, it’s important that federal, state and local policy makers understand what IFO is and how they can access the organization for information “straight from the heart and straight from the land,” he said.

“We may not be banging the drum and saying we’re going to vote you in or vote you out, but we do want to make sure that the people who shape public policy for agriculture and rural issues know that there’s an honest direct source for them to turn to and ask, ‘is this a good thing or bad thing?’”

For details, e-mail Fry at charles@ifoh. org or Diana Stitzlein at diana@ifoh.org

This farm news was published in the February 8, 2006 issue of Farm World.

2/8/2006